Fairhope mayor, citizen group at odds in effort to change city’s governing system

Fairhope Pier
[Photo Credit: Joseph Brooke via Flikr]

A battle is brewing in Fairhope, Ala.

A potential change in the city’s governing system has controversial Mayor Karin Wilson and a non-profit group called Fresh Start Fairhope at odds with one another.

The change in government would allow the city to change from a Council-Mayor system to a Council-Manager system if enough petitions are signed.

The end date for petition acceptance is this Friday, June 29.

Wilson issued a blog last week saying she supports the Council-Manager form of government because it “takes the day-to-day administrative role out of the political limelight which has been very detrimental to not only our City but others also still operating under the Council-Mayor form of government.”

“This is not about taking anyone’s side (mayor or council), it is about a more professional way of doing business for our City and our employees – a better way to represent our citizens and meet their needs,” Wilson continued. “The administrative role of mayor currently is a full-time job leaving little time for planning and vision which I believe is one of the most important roles of a mayor. We have had City Administrators in the past who have helped with this role with far less population, however the position was defunded years ago.”

“By changing the form of government, the City Manager would be the consistent professional through terms managed by The New Council. Our future is too important to leave this position up for debate.”

But the Fresh Start Fairhope group supports a different solution; changing the city’s form of government to  Council-Manager.

On the groups home page, they explain that in Fairhope’s current form of government the Mayor is chief executive of the city, meaning that all city employees report to them, and they are in charge of executing all policies, procedures, and budgets established by City Council.

The new form of government they are proposing would create a new governing body known as the “Council of the City of Fairhope,” which would have the same executive powers and duties of the council, but would make the mayor a member of the council, not an executive over it. Meaning they would no longer be over all city employees, or the council. The mayor would also be in charge of ceremonial events, and serve as a representative of the city.

The way the members of the council are elected would also change, “One member will be a council member elected by the voters at large. Three members will be council members elected by the voters from each of three single-member districts,” the group states.

Wilson under fire

Wilson has been under fire from the City Council  repeatedly this year. In March, Wilson received an email from Fairhope Police Chief Joseph Petties, after a controversial hiring decision she made in February without the council, or police chief’s approval, later retracting the hire.

Wilson again came under fire in May with Fairhope’s Financial Advisory Committee (FAC), after sending an e-mail to committee chairman Chuck Zunk telling him the city budget was ultimately her responsibility, and that she would let the committee know if and when she needed their input.

Earlier in June, Petties announced his retirement at a city council meeting after saying Wilson bullied him and made false accusations against him. In an unanticipated turn of events, council members emphatically tore up Petties’s resignation letter, refusing to accept his resignation. They said they would look into whether or not the council could pursue efforts to pry police supervisory power from Wilson.